Quick-Change Artistry: Using Illustrator Symbols for Efficient Icon Iteration

The Symbols feature in Illustrator allows you to create master objects that can be changed en masse when you change your mind. If you have a document that has repeated instances of a certain embellishment---whether it be a logo, ornament, or even a text element---you can save a master version of that element which can be easily duplicated, replaced, or updated en masse when you (or your client, or your boss) have a change of heart. 

To demonstrate how symbols work to efficiently duplicate and iterate graphics, I stole this tutorial from Deke's upcoming Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Mastery course due out at this week. In this project, we'll take a simple page icon and make variations of it in Illustrator, as if to visually document a completely abridged history of the written word from the advent of a single sheet of paper on (sorry, no stone tablet icon to work with). Like this (although I'm not sure what phase of communication technology the clipboard is supposed to represent): Psst: If you want to follow along, you can download the file I'm using at the end of this post.

Here are the step-by-step illustrated instructions. (If you're not a member of dekeOnline, you can become one here, it's free.)  Read more » 

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Steal from the Best: Get Your Gradient Swatches for InDesign by Lifting Them from Illustrator

And while you're at it, get your InDesign know-how by lifting it from Anne-Marie Concepcion and David Blatner.

As I've probably mentioned ten thousand times already, I have a project I'm working on that requires InDesign, and I'm heading to PEPCON (the Print and eProduction Conference) this weekend and don't want to seem dull-minded as I mix with the InDesignerati. (In my experience, the crowd, speakers, and attendees alike, are wicked sharp at PEPCON.)

So, one of the ways I'm feeding my craving for more InDesign know-how is to watch a lot of David and Anne-Marie's course, InDesign Secrets. In fact, that's where I stole this movie on how to get gradient swatches out of Illustrator and into InDesign.

If you're an InDesign user with a design-centric version of the Creative Suite or a subscription to the Creative Cloud, then you already have access to Illustrator, so go grab those swatches. They're already yours. I'm just using the thievery motif for dramatic effect. Much like one might use these gradients:

Like Deke's Techniques, the InDesign Secrets collection at is a continually updated series of short episodes. And if this level of InDesignery is over your head, there's an Up & Running with InDesign course taught by some guy named Deke there, too. And if you're not a member, you can get a free week's trial at  

For those of you who like to read, here are my insightful observations on Anne-Marie's trick:   Read more » 

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Deke Challenge Winner Authors New Course at

Little did we know when we held last year's Deke's Techniques challenge that we were also going on a talent search for But in fact, the winner of the Photoshop Challenge (that classic "It's a Plaid, Plaid World") has now created her first course. This movie above is an excerpt from Robin Schneider's new course, Illustrator for Fashion Design: Drawing Flats.

Congratulations (again), Robin. We'll be able to say we knew you when. And for those of you who would like to try out Robin's course (and of course a pile of courses by some guy named Deke, too), you can get a free seven-day trial at more » 

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Deke's Techniques 210: Creating a Dramatic Cartoon Background

In this week's free Deke's Techniques episode, Deke shows you how he used Adobe Illustrator to create the delightful yet dramatic background for his cartoon character---that grumpy bird known as the Baconator---that he introduced to you last week.

Despite the whimsical visual intricacy of the final piece, the starting point is very simple, consisting of a few geometric shapes that will be duplicated, stretched, and spun around via Illustrator's dynamic effects---all without having to draw a thing beyond a rectangle or elipse. 

These simple shapes become a dramatic cartoon background

Here's a look at how Deke transformed this collection of shapes into an eye-catching deceptively simple landscape, suitable for your game design, children's book illustration, or fugues into imaginary cartoon lands:  Read more » 

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Deke's Techniques 207: Creating a Cartoon Grumpy Bird's Body in Illustrator

Create a Grumpy Bird Cartoon Body in Illustrator

In this week's Deke's Techniques episode, Deke contemplates the creation of cartoon gaming characters in Adobe Illustrator. (This creature may or may not bear homage to a certain video game Deke might have played before he became obsessed with Fieldrunners.) 

But the point of the exercise is to explore how the highly graphical creatures that populate our modern pastimes are created from standard shapes, which are then stretched, filled, warped, duplicated, highlighted, and shaded in Illustrator. So start with this:

And end up here by the end of the video: 

I sort of love this featureless egg-like-but-with-telltale-hair creature, but there's more:  Read more » 

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